Why we’re trying to break the old guard’s grip on awards judging

In this guest post, ADMA’s Kate Furey explains why the DM association is trying to break the “boys clubs” of awards judging

There’s always debate and cynicism around who judges advertising awards.  

One of the biggest criticisms is that the same people end up on panels time and time again.

In our case the reasons this can happen sometimes are twofold. Firstly we want a few people who’ve judged before precisely because they have judged before. There should be consistency in the way entries are assessed because that’s what’s fairest, and having experienced judges helps keep a degree of uniformity and prevent Total Judging Anarchy. But secondly, although we always ask the industry to nominate who they think should be judging, the number of people who actually do tends to be small and unchanging from year to year. When the same people nominate the same people, you end up with a scarcity of new blood you can call in.

Unfortunately, when the faces on panels do start looking a bit familiar, the assumption is that cronyism/Sydney-centricity/boys club/[insert conspiracy theory here] is the culprit. I know, I get emails about it and so do the good peeps over at AWARD. They probably get them in Cannes, at The Echoes and Caples too.

Surprisingly, I think some of those complaints are fair. No-one really knows who’s been nominated, how many times, who by and why they were chosen in the end, do they? We could be pulling them out of thin air or playing agency bingo, for all you know.

We chewed over that even more than usual this year and started wondering whether there was a way to make our judge recruitment process more transparent and inclusive. Could we create something everyone can take part in, see more aspects of, encourage others to participate in and be satisfied was fair? Would that give us a bigger list of great people to choose from?

OgilvyOne took the brief. You can see what they came up with at www.admaawards.com.au until June 30 – an open online invitation to the direct marketing industry to nominate judges, which also lets registered voters see the most-nominated people in a tag cloud. You can’t vote for yourself, there’s a limit on the number of votes which any one person can cast for another to prevent branch stacking and, since it’s not intended to be a popularity contest, you won’t be able to see the total number of votes for anyone. The chairs of judges, Telstra’s Karen Ganschow and Mark Sydney’s Hamish Stewart, will also weigh it all up and have final say over who makes up their panels, but public sentiment will definitely play a far greater role.

It’s not Awards Glasnost yet by any stretch, but you’ll be able to login and see a lot more than you used to. It’s also a first for us, or anyone as far as I know, so the reaction is unpredictable. Most people will hopefully see that the intentions are genuine and treat the process in good faith, because they take the awards seriously want the best people making the decisions about who wins. Sure, there’ll be some of the usual argy-bargy with nominations too. $100 says a few japesters vote 1 for Draper to judge again this year, but despite the above mentioned accusations of boys-clubism, we eye old school pants men with some suspicion. He’s unlikely to get a tilt.

I don’t know if we’ve cracked it yet by the way – making things transparent, inclusive and fair and, ultimately, unearthing a broader list of potential judges. But I really hope we’ve gone at least part of the way and welcome feedback here or @admaawards for next time. Or, better yet, just cast your votes now.

Kate Furey is the Communications & Awards Director of the Australian Direct Marketing Association


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